Sharks fight hard to stay unbeaten

The Coastal Sharks maintained their impressive start to this year’s Super 14 competition with a hard-fought 16-8 win over the Golden Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday.

With five victories out of five, the men from Durban moved back into second spot on the southern-hemisphere interprovincial rugby championship points table. The Sharks are now on 21 points, three behind the Canterbury Crusaders, but three ahead of the Wellington Hurricanes.

It was certainly the toughest test yet for Dick Muir’s men, and only good defence and some poor finishing by the Lions allowed the Sharks to remain unbeaten this year.

South Africa’s best-performing franchise, coming off an impressive victory over the Auckland Blues last weekend, showed several changes from their best side, with the likes of French international Frederick Michalak only coming on midway through the second half.

The Sharks, though, did their business in the first half, scoring all of their points in the opening 40 minutes, with the Lions hitting back in style after the change-over and being rewarded with a late try to replacement forward Franco van der Merwe.

The home side will, however, rue a number of good chances they failed to convert in the final stanza.

The Lions started superbly and enjoyed the majority of possession. They also had the upper hand in the territorial stakes in the opening 40 minutes, but their inability to breach a formidable Sharks defence meant they never came close to crossing the try line in the first half.

In fact, both teams battled to create good try-scoring chances, with the visitors’ five-pointer the only real chance coming up in the first stanza.

After the teams had swapped early penalties, the Sharks broke out from deep in their own half through Francois Steyn, who made a good 50m with a run down the touchline, and then good support play and vision by Waylon Murray, Jacques Botes and Ryan Kankowski saw the Sharks to within metres of the Lions try line.

But when Keegan Daniel was stopped short of the line, Springbok prop BJ Botha was on hand to dive over.
The conversion by Rory Kockott gave the Sharks a 10-3 lead.

A typical Highveld thunderstorm then hit Ellis Park, making handling extremely difficult, and for the visitors matters got even more tricky when they lost inspirational hooker Bismarck du Plessis, who had left the field to have a cut above his eye patched up and failed to get back on the field in the required time allowed.

Kockott knocked over two further penalties in the first half to help the Durban team to a 16-3 advantage at the change-over.

The Lions continued their impressive showing after the restart and had an immediate chance to close the gap when flyhalf Jaco van Schalkwyk’s pinpoint cross-field kick found Rayno Benjamin out on the wing, but the Lions man failed to control the ball, knocking it on over the line.

Centre Jaco Pretorius also came close, but for a try-saving tackle by Sharks number eight Kankowski, but the Lions did have something to cheer, if not a victory or bonus point, when Van der Merwe crashed over at the death.—Sapa-AFP

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